About Nicolas Flamel
Nicolas Flamel (early 1330s–1418) was a successful French scrivener and manuscript-seller who developed a posthumous reputation as an alchemist due to his reputed work on the philosopher's stone.
According to the introduction to his work and additional details that have accrued since its publication, Flamel was the most accomplished of the European alchemists, and had learned his art from a Jewish converso on the road to Santiago de Compostela. As Deborah Harkness put it, "Others thought Flamel was the creation of 17th-century editors and publishers desperate to produce modern printed editions of supposedly ancient alchemical treatises then circulating in manuscript for an avid reading public." The modern assertion that many references to him or his writings appear in alchemical texts of the 16th century, however, has not been linked to any particular source. The essence of his reputation is that he succeeded at the two magical goals of alchemy -- that he made the Philosopher's Stone, which turns lead into gold, and that he and his wife Perenelle achieved immortality through the "Elixir of Life".
Nicolas and his wife, Perenelle were devout Roman Catholics. Later in life they were noted for their wealth and philanthropy as well as multiple interpretations on modern day alchemy.
An alchemical book, published in Paris in 1613 as Livre des figures hiéroglypiques and in London in 1624 as Exposition of the Hieroglyphical Figures was attributed to Flamel. It is a collection of designs purportedly commissioned by Flamel for a tympanum at the Cimetière des Innocents in Paris, long disappeared at the time the work was published. In the publisher's introduction Flamel's search for the philosopher's stone was described. According to that introduction, Flamel had made it his life's work to understand the text of a mysterious 21-page book he had purchased. The introduction claims that, around 1378, he travelled to Spain for assistance with translation. On the way back, he reported that he met a sage, who identified Flamel's book as being a copy of the original Book of Abraham the Mage. With this knowledge, over the next few years, Flamel and his wife allegedly decoded enough of the book to successfully replicate its recipe for the Philosopher's Stone, producing first silver in 1382, and then gold.
Flamel lived into his 80s, and in 1410 designed his own tombstone, which was carved with arcane alchemical signs and symbols. The tombstone is preserved at the Musée de Cluny in Paris.
Expanded accounts of his life are legendary. In addition to the mysterious book of 21 pages filled with encoded alchemical symbols and arcane writing, he may also have studied some texts in Hebrew. Interest in Flamel revived in the 19th century, and Victor Hugo mentioned him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Eric Satie was intrigued by Flamel.
He had already achieved legendary status within the circles of alchemy by the mid 17th Century, with references in Isaac Newton's journals to "the Caduceus, the Dragons of Flammel".
Flamel died in 1418.
Nicolas Flamel in Paris
One of Flamel's houses still stands in Paris, at 51 rue de Montmorency. It is the oldest stone house in the city. There is an old inscription on the wall : We, ploughmen and women living at the porch of this house, built in 1407, are requested to say every day an "Our Father" and an "Ave Maria" praying God that His grace forgive poor and dead sinners. The ground floor currently contains a restaurant.
A Paris street near the Louvre Museum, the rue Nicolas Flamel, has been named for him; it intersects with the rue Perenelle, named for his wife.
In popular culture
Lists of miscellaneous information should be avoided. Please relocate any relevant information into appropriate sections or articles. (April 2010)
- Flamel is the subject of Michael Roberts' poem "Nicholas Flamel", collected in These Our Matins (1930).
- Flamel has been alleged to be the eighth Grand Master of the Priory of Sion (1398–1418) as part of a 1960s intrigue where his name was planted in the French National Library in the Dossiers Secrets. This resulted in him being mentioned in the 1982 pseudohistory book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Umberto Eco's 1988 novel Foucault's Pendulum, and Dan Brown's 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code. Many of the names of "Grand Masters" were evidently chosen for some sort of connection with alchemy.
- Nicolas and his wife Perenelle Flamel are important characters mentioned in the Indiana Jones story Indiana Jones and the Philosopher's Stone (1995) by Max McCoy.
- Nicolas Flamel's story is alluded to in J. K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997).
- The concept album Grand Materia (2005) by the Swedish metal band Morgana Lefay is about Nicolas Flamel, his life, and how he made the Philosopher's Stone.
- Nicholas and his wife are central characters in Michael Scott's series of six fantasy novels, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, started in 2007.
- Subtle references to Nicolas Flamel are shown in the manga Fullmetal Alchemist where many of the characters have a mark called the 'Flamel' such as Edward and Alphonse Elric and Izumi Curtis. The mark is a stylization of a crucified snake, a commonly-repeated theme in Flamel's writings.
Works ascribed to Flamel
- Le Livre des figures hiéroglyphiques (The Book of hieroglyphic figures), first published in Trois traictez de la philosophie naturelle, Paris, Veuve Guillemot, 1612
- Le sommaire philosophique (The Philosophical summary), first published in De la transformation métallique, Paris, Guillaume Guillard, 1561
- Le Livre des laveures (The Book of washing), manuscript BnF MS. Français 19978
- Le Bréviaire de Flamel (Flamel's breviary), manuscript BnF MS. Français 14765